Ineffable. But Effing Anyway.


I will consult my physics buddy to help explain in scientific terms this not-uncommonly observed way that light through pine needles displays as radians along concentric circles of light.  On the other hand,  understanding the chemistry of the paint doesn’t add to our appreciation of a masterful work of art.

I see this display often,  but a photograph that captures this phenomenon is rare in my archives, other than memory.

Rarer still–a once in a lifetime experience for me, and the window is closing–is the view of radians, that quite by accident, I observed this week in thin air. Thin, except for literally hundreds of waving webs of floating, or “ballooning” spiders.

I’ve written about the “gossamer spiders” before, observing a dozen or two within a few minutes during very dry, clear windows fall days over the decades. That spectacle alone makes goose bumps.

But on this occasion that I struggle unsuccessfully to adequately describe so that the hair on your arms bristle, too, there were so many distant overlapping and shining strands that, for just a few seconds, I saw this circle-of-light pattern in a tapestry of organic fiber-optic floating life-lines.

Each filament lofted a hopeful tiny spider, borne on a waft of wind that had just brushed gently across the north ridge. With this signal, an entire neighborhood of spiders let go at once, and I happened to see them as the passed overhead, backlit by a brilliant sun.

I had chanced to look up as I began climbing the ladder to clean gutters.

One never knows when they might be overcome by the ineffable. Does one?

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. I have seen this in the Olympic National Park rain forest, but it was years ago, and I don’t remember my thoughts about it. Very curious! Your old blog about the spiders was really interesting, including the comment about watching the phenomenom on the golf course. Did you re-read that?

  2. Those are the kinds of moments that bring tears to my eyes. I am not close enough to biology to see what you have but there is a flash of blue green light at the top of a wave seen from a sailboat that struck me like that. Miraculous, really.